Home is where the heart is en route to
February 10, 2012 11:47 AM   Subscribe

How does one rent an apartment out-of-state, sight unseen, so it's ready to move in upon arrival?

My wife and I are crawling through Craigslist for an apartment on the other side of the US. We've never done this before. What's the normal procedure for people in our position? How can we ensure that the apartment will be ours to claim and start moving in, the day we arrive with all our stuff? I'd hate to show up on the scene and find out that since we hadn't signed the lease in advance, the unit was rented to someone else (or some other unforeseeable disaster like that). How can we have some peace of mind that home will be waiting for us?

Also, how do we handle mail forwarding? I get that we should submit a change-of-address form with USPS before we move, but how can we make sure any mail sent while we travel will be deposited safely in the new mailbox before we get there?

Any other tips for making the move as smooth as possible would be really helpful too.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The easiest way to put your mind at ease will be to secure a unit in a complex with a property manager and, yes, they do use Craigslist to find tenants. They are used to dealing with this scenario and you can conduct the entire transaction via e-mail/fax including signing the lease.

Expect to pay an application fee that will cover your credit check as well. You'll probably need to pay a security fee and perhaps the first month's rent up front. If you have a pet, you may need to pay extra fees for that and send scans documenting his/her vaccinations, etc.; your vet will provide this. You'll be signing a contract, which is your peace of mind that home will be waiting for you and their peace of mind that you'll pay the rent. Discuss with the manager your arrival date in case there need to be any special key arrangements.

Regarding the mail, do it on-line at www.usps.com. It will cost $1 but you'll get documentation that USPS will forward your mail for the period you specifiy.

Don't worry; this is a big deal and confusing to you--and there may well be a few hiccups along the way-- but lots of other folks deal with it all the time. I rent apartments sight unseen every year (weird travel schedule) and it always works out. You mentioned "stuff," so I assume you're not renting furniture, but if you need tips on that sing out.
posted by carmicha at 12:02 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's going to be difficult. Can you fly/drive/whatever to the new town for a week or weekend to find a place beforehand?

One way to get around it -- arrange a short-term rental with a reputable short-term housing company, like Oakwood, if it's available in your area. Or some of the longer-term stay hotels are similar.

For the mail -- rent a PO Box through a UPS store or similar in the new town. You should be able to set that up online or over the phone, and have your mail forwarded there. Once your'e settled you can get everything moved to the ultimate, final address.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:03 PM on February 10, 2012

Oh and another thing the professional property managers do is deal with utilities, cable, etc. so it's all set for you. They'll do this regardless of whether it's included in your rent or separate.
posted by carmicha at 12:05 PM on February 10, 2012

You need to sign the lease BEFORE you begin your trek. If you find a place via Craigslist that you want to rent, email the landlord and explain that you are moving from out of state and ask if you can fax or mail the lease to them rather than turn in in person.

You should probably also verify that the photos you are seeing on Craigslist are of the exact unit for rent and not a model unit or "similar" unit.

For mail forwarding, try to time it so that your lease begins before you start driving to your destination. Verify with the landlord that you will be able to receive mail at your new place from that day forward, even though you may not arrive for a few more days. Worst case, you could always get a PO box and have mail forwarded to there while you are in transit.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:05 PM on February 10, 2012

When I moved from Houston to Nashville, I handled everything long-distance through phone calls, e-mails, and faxes. The only sticky point is that I was going to be arriving at a time the office would be closed and I wouldn't be able to pick up the keys, but that was handled by allowing my boss (I was moving for work) to pick up the keys and hold them for me until I got there.

I can't remember how I handled the mail. I probably just submitted the change-of-address form normally and what little there was to deliver while I moved was waiting for me. As I understand it, postal carriers don't really know or care whether mail piles up because you're not there yet, you're out of town, you've gone, or you're just too lazy to pick it up. It's their job to deliver the mail and your job to retrieve it.
posted by cardioid at 12:05 PM on February 10, 2012

I did this once, although in my case I signed the lease from out of state. It depends on your comfort level with the landlord, the apartment, etc. In my case, I had seen enough photos and had a reasonable telephone conversation with the property manager, and it was a fairly large and well-known management company in that city, so I was comfortable taking that approach.

As far as mail forwarding goes, it will be delivered to your new mailbox whether you've arrived yet or not. Is your concern that some mail might arrive before you do, and you aren't comfortable with it being left unattended in your mailbox for a few days? Your approach to that depends on what type of mailbox it is. If it's the typical sort of apartment mailbox that requires a key, then you can feel comfortable about it accumulating in there until you arrive. If it's not a secure mailbox, then you could place a hold on your new address and go pick it up at the local post office (or have it delivered) after you arrive. Chances are good that not very much forwarded mail will arrive before you do, especially if your travel time is less than 3 or 4 days. In my experience, it takes 7-10 days before forwarded mail starts arriving regularly at a new address. What black hole it visits during that time, I have no clue.
posted by Nothlit at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2012

I've done this before numerous times.

Usually what we do is one of us goes first (me, since I have the job in the new place to worry about) and finds a place, then the other follows. Do you guys have to go together? That's one way of doing it. Something else we've done is book ourselves into an extended stay-type hotel for a week or two and throw our stuff in storage until we find a place. Whoever isn't working does the looking and whoever is working does a final walkthrough of the place, then signs papers.

If you must go together, the property manager can work with you so everything is buttoned up on their end.

For mail, I usually rent a UPS Store-type box in the city I'm heading to or, worst case, point it at a friend's/relative's/someone I really REALLY trust until I find an address.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:22 PM on February 10, 2012

As we planned our last move, I was looking into using Oakwood for a short time until we found something permanent. Then it occured to me that VRBO might work. Sure enough we found a funished place for 2 months. The lease was arranged/signed in advance. And the owner gathered the small amount of mail that we forwarded.
posted by yqxnflld at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2012

I've faxed (and emailed PDFs of) leases from out of state on this one. Through Craigslist, after reasonable email and phone conversations, and getting some additional recent pictures of the apartment. I didn't go with a large rental property firm, I chose to sublet a separate unit in a house with a local landlord. Being in a nicer area also probably helped, and having it only be a short term sublet meant I could deal with imperfections in the place short-term and make final decisions on which neighborhood to live in later.

On preview, I really like yqxnflld's idea of using VRBO, if you can find something in your price range.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2012

I've done this twice. I was very clear about the fact that I would not be able to go to town X before arriving, so I asked for extensive pictures of the place. There were ones that weren't accommodating, but I just didn't rent with them.

All leases etc. were signed before arrival--basically everything except having the key in my hand. I suppose it could have been a scam, but I gave some preference to larger-scale operations that had a decent, trackable web presence.

The second time I did this, I was moving to a town I had previously lived in, and that was MUCH easier, because I knew which places were and weren't reliable. If you have any contacts that live near your new home, use them. Coworkers-to-be, college friends that live near there, whatever. I also did a short-term sublet (~4 months) with the option to renew the lease on one of those occasions, so that I could get out without too much trouble.

For mail, we put a two-week stop on mail delivery, and set up the change-of-address in the middle of that, so that any mail that came to the old address during that time would get forwarded at the end of the stop. Also, mail carriers know that apartment dwellings have a lot of changeover, and they're not surprised when they see a new name on some envelopes and an un-updated name on the mailbox.

General recommendations--if you're having movers, don't put any stock in their estimates of time or money and plan accordingly. Our stuff came a week later and twice as expensive as quoted, for no particular reason. We were glad that we'd packed enough bare necessities in the car to get us through (including my first few days of work. Same suit 3 days in a row? Why not?)
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2012

I did this once; the lease was signed and deposits sent /cashed before I got there. I started having my mail forwarded about two weeks before I moved through the online website. Do not expect that the landlord/property manager will take care of your utilities and etc., for you if they are not included in your rent - some will not, but you can always ask (personally I'd rather take care of this myself, but mileage varies, of course).

However, I would never do this again. The apartment was basically as described but there were details that I would have known if I had viewed it in person that did make a difference.

Another thing to consider is that in the city I currently live in (I moved long distance here as well, but I viewed the apartment beforehand), landlords are extremely reluctant to hold onto apartments for more than a month, so you may find that your not being in that area is less of a problem than that your availability might conflict with the market there - here, it's definitely a landlord's market and if they can get someone to start renting today what you can't start paying rent on for a couple months, they'll go with the first person. This happened to me a couple of times, but again, mileage varies.
posted by sm1tten at 4:31 PM on February 10, 2012

Can you find a friend to look at a few places and make sure they're okay? I was pretty surprised when I did this on my way into graduate school---and I'd been very impressed with the landlord on the phone.
posted by spbmp at 8:26 PM on February 10, 2012

We just did this a year ago. However, we were just looking for a nice apartment in a large complex. We checked out photos/floor plans/video tours online, picked an apartment, then paid our deposit over the phone and faxed over proof of employment. On the day we arrived in the new state, we drove our moving truck up to the leasing office, signed the lease and got the keys, and then drove a couple of buildings to our new apartment. It was all very easy. Is there any way you could look at some large complexes rather than just Craigslist?
posted by that's how you get ants at 9:06 AM on February 11, 2012

I worry that if you find a place on craigslist that is privately owned, it may either not meet your expectations or worse, you may be scammed. If I was in your situation, I'd feel more comfortable doing one of two things:

1. find a real estate agent (yes, a lot of them help renters - they usually get 1st month's rent in commission from the property owner or manager and hope that when you decide to buy a home, you'll pick them


2. go with a reputable property management company that had a national reputation. Something like Archstone or Avalon. A lot of these companies do advertise on craigslist - but you can also find them on rent.com or www.apartmentguide.com
posted by echo0720 at 9:34 AM on February 11, 2012

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